A Royal Parking Lot: The Discovery of King Richard III

by Lindsay Shapka in , ,

In the fall of 2012, a team of archeologists from the University of Leicester discovered a skeleton under one of the town's parking lots. Shockingly, the skeleton turned out to be the lost remains in King Richard III who had been killed in battle in 1485!

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending a lecture by Dr Jo Appleby (an expert in Osteoarchaeology aka the scientific study of human remains from archeology sites aka Bones from the TV show Bones) — the archeologist who helped discover, excavate and identify the bones.

The discovery of King Richard III

So why should this discovery interest you? Because discoveries like this almost NEVER happen... EVER...

According to Dr Appleby, as a rule in archeology, you never go looking for something in particular. You dig and find what you find, but an actual search for something specific (like in Indiana Jones) is fruitless and not scientifically realistic. SO to attempt a search for something as specific as the remains of Richard III was laughable (in fact one of her colleagues told her that he would eat his hat if they actually found the skeleton).

BUT she did it anyway... and it’s a good thing she did! 

After extensive research through historical sources, the team believed that they had identified the former location of the Greyfriars Friary, which was where it was believed that the King had been buried.

The problem? The assumed location was under asphalt parking lots and the city's council buildings. (In case you haven’t caught on yet, excavating under a building is not really a possibility.)

The solution? They started digging trenches in the lots hoping to find something — they did. Not only did they find walls, and relics, but they found a skeleton. Yup, you guessed it, that skeleton — the FIRST they found only a few centimeters below the pavement — was none other then King Richard III. 

Now you might be wondering how they know he was Richard III. This is where it gets interesting.

First of all, the skeleton was found in a shallow, hastily dug grave, which is the type of treatment the king would have received having been killed in a war that was won by his enemy.

Second of all, the spine had a distinctive curve. Now, if you aren't aware, King Richard III was infamous for having a hunchback. Exactly what the skeleton was showing.

Thirdly, the wounds on the body matched those that would have occurred from weapons used in warfare during the king’s reign. 

Radiocarbon dating also placed the bones in the right century, and a 3D model of the skull with muscles and skin was created that shows a striking likeness to known portraits of the former king.

But, none of this really confirmed anything until the DNA test. Yes, even though he was killed in 1485, mitochondrial DNA was still present in the teeth of the remains!

Through more extensive research into the bloodlines of this former king and his family members, 2 people from separate bloodlines were found who were thought to be his descendents. They agreed to take the test and IT WAS A MATCH — indisputable evidence that the remains found buried in a 'car park' in Leicester, England were none other than King Richard III.

Who says history is only in the past... 

UPDATE: On Thursday, March 26, the remains of King Richard III was buried with pomp and dignity in the Leicester Cathedral. The service was attended by royalty, religious leaders, archeologists, actor Benedict Cumberbatch (?!), and other curious Britons. Thousands came to view his coffin in the days before his service, which was televised live. It was an amazing conclusion to the incredible saga of this ruler from life to death to rediscovery. 

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The History of The Covered Passageways in Paris

by Lindsay Shapka in , , ,

If you are anything like me, one of your favourite things about travelling is finding those spots that transport you back in time, and for just a moment you can pretend that you are part of the era that gave birth to artistic genius, architectural marvels, or mysterious cultures.

The passages couverts (covered shopping passageways) in Paris, France are one of those spots. These shopping arcades emerged in the 19th century, post-Napoleon era, during a time of relative peace, prosperity and the rise of the industrial class.

Paris was notorious at this time for being overcrowded and not having any sort of sewage, drainage or walkways. These passages were the first places that allowed shoppers the ability to stroll from store to store, blissfully apart from the filth and noise of the street.

These passages soon became a top attraction in the city and were THE destination for those visiting from the surrounding provinces. At the peak of their popularity, there were more than 150 of these covered shopping and entertainment Meccas — shopping was not the only reason to pay these spots a visit. 

Those with money in their pockets would have NO problem spending it drinking, dining, bathing (there were public baths in every passage), theatre, and activities of an... ahem,,, questionable nature (prostitutes frequented the area at night). 

Sadly, it was the opening of the city's first department store in the mid 1800s that caused a sudden drop in popularity of these once bustling destinations and now there are only a few dozen left.

They are completely worth visiting however, as they showcase some fantastic architecture and take you on a quiet, off-the-beaten-path-tour through some pretty cool parts of the city. Some of them are completely deserted, some still have shops, cafes, and even hotels in them, but all evoke images of 19th century men in tailored jackets and women with parasols shopping, socializing and being fabulous Parisians! 

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Queen Nefertiti: The Most Beautiful Woman In Ancient Egypt

by Lindsay Shapka in , , ,

A copy of the famous bust of Queen Nefertiti found in the Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin, Germany 

Like Helen of Troy, the beauty of Queen Nefertiti has been documented throughout history and her likeness has been studied and revered since it's discovery. 

Who was Queen Nefertiti?

Egypt's second most famous queen (after Cleopatra, of course) Queen Nefertiti was the wife of Akhenaten (formally known as Amenhotep IV) who came to the throne in 1352 BC and reigned for 17 years.

The two of them radically changed the political, spiritual, and cultural life of Egyptians, founding a new religion that worshiped only one god — the life-giving sun deity Aten. Akhenaten acted as the high priest of this new religion, making Nefertiti the high priestess.  

The famous bust of this beautiful queen (that the white bust in the photo above was modeled after) was discovered amongst drawings, and other art related to the royal family, in the studio of the sculptor Thutmose at Akhetaten — the capital city during her husband's rule.

The discovery was made in 1912 during excavations by the German-Orient-Association, which is why the current home of this beautiful piece of history is the National Museum of Berlin. (Though Egypt is constantly trying to get this piece returned back.)

Why is the sculpture of Queen Nefertiti so special?

What makes this 50 cm tall sculpture (pictured above) so unique is the fact that sculptures of a bust — consisting of ONLY the head and shoulders — were extremely rare during this period. Because of that, some scholars believe that this piece may have simply been a model (a 3-D sketch) for the artist to follow in order to complete other paintings, carvings, or full body sculptures of the beautiful queen. (Ironically what may have been a basic artist's 'sketch' has become one of the most copied pieces of ancient Egyptian art.) 

The colors used in painting the piece, the perfect symmetry of her features, and the fact that the bust was discovered in almost perfect condition also made this an unbelievable find for archeologists. 

Whether or not her beauty was exaggerated is something that can never really be proven definitively, but writing by her subjects referring to her as "Fair of Face" and "Endowed With Love" have been found supporting the artist's vision. 

Where to see the original bust of Queen Nefertiti 

The bust of Queen Nefertiti is located in Room 2.10 of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (Egyptian Museum Berlin).

Location: Ägyptisches Museum und Papyrussammlung im Neuen Museum, Bodestr. 1-3, 10178 Berlin (Main entrance located under the colonnades.)

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Ring Around The Rosie, The Plague, and The Black Death

by Lindsay Shapka in ,

Ring Around the Rosie (or Ring-a-Ring o'Roses if you are from the UK) is a nursery rhyme that many of us have recited on the playground at one time or another. Though it has been part of the Mother Goose collection of folksongs since 1881, this rhyme may have been recited as early as the 1790s all over Europe, and has a pretty dark history.

Though some scholars disagree, legend says that the song describes either the Black Death of 1347 or the Great Plague in 1665. The Black Death was a horrible plague that struck Europe, Asia and Africa killing 30-60% of Europe's population and giving rise to a culture of death. The Great Plague stayed mostly in England, but wiped out entire families, filling the streets with bodies.

Swollen lymph nodes with a red, rosy rash around them was a symptom of the plague relating to the line "Ring-a-round a rosie."

"A pocket full of posies" refers to the posies of herbs that were carried by those that were not yet ill to ward off the smell (essentially a 14th century air freshener, as those cursed with the plague gave off a horrible smell as their bodies began to rot from the inside out) and as superstitious protection.

Bodies, and the homes of the dead, were burned to try and rid the streets of the infection, hence the line "Ashes! Ashes!" In the British version of the rhyme, this line reads "A-tishoo! A-tishoo!" which could refer to the sneezing and coughing that was one of the final symptoms of the disease.  

The apocalyptic nature of the plague is felt in the final line of the poem "We all fall down", as hundreds of people literally dropped dead, often without warning.

Makes you think twice about teaching this nursery rhyme to any of the children in your life, doesn't it....